NASA expands lab role of International Space Station

NASA sees new research in biotechnology, energy, engineering and remote sensing.

NASA is looking for a few good experiments to run in space.  The space agency this week said it was seeking research ideas from private entities to want to do research on board the International Space Station.

NASA said it was looking to expand the use of the ISS by providing access to the lab for the conduct of basic and applied research, technology development and industrial processing to private entities -- including, but not limited to, commercial firms, non-profit institutions, and academic institutions. US federal, state and local government entities, and could also propose research. 

21 critical future NASA missions 

NASA said it was particularly interested in, but not limited to, two areas of ISS expansion. 

1. Payload Integration and Operations Support Services:  There is an emphasis on systems or process that would enable new areas or research or production not currently available on ISS. Support services may include project-specific payload integration and operations support on an as needed bases in response to specific requirements as they emerge, NASA stated. 

2. Support Equipment and Instrumentation: NASA said it is interested in concepts that advance the capabilities of the ISS for utilization including providing standard interfaces that simplify and enable multiple research areas; expand the on orbit capabilities to allow for in-situ analysis and evaluation of payload results; and expand the on orbit capabilities to allow for more sophisticated operations on board. 

NASA said using the ISS as a national lab could help develop a number of applications in areas such as biotechnology, energy, engineering and remote sensing. 

Expanding the role of the ISS would be a welcome use of the facility as some experts have complained that the ISS, for all about $50 billion cost to NASA, is under-utilized.  

The international team that runs the ISS which includes Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia, and the US says now that the ISS is mostly complete, there will be an expansion of space-based research. Nearly 150 experiments are currently under way on the station, and more than 400 experiments have been conducted since research began nine years ago, the group says. These experiments already are leading to advances in the fight against food poisoning, new methods for delivering medicine to cancer cells and the development of more capable engines and materials for use on Earth and in space. 

NASA has identified 197 US-integrated investigations that have been conducted on orbit as of April 2009. According to NASA, as of February 2009, US ISS and research have resulted in over 160 publications, including articles on topics such as protein crystallization, plant growth, and human research. According to NASA, there have also been approximately 25 technology demonstration experiments flown on the ISS. 

There was concern that NASA, because of budget concerns might only fund use of he ISS for the next five years. But in his address to NASA this month President Obama said he wanted to extend ISS support at least five years beyond the current 2015 end date.  

And there has already been an uptick in new research for the ISS.

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said this month they are looking to develop advanced 3-D models, algorithms that control clustered flight and electromagnetic thrust technology all in the zero-gravity environment of the ISS.  Specifically, they were looking for new research to conduct using the Synchronized Position, Hold, Engage, and Reorient Experimental Satellites (SPHERES) experiment on the ISS.   

Scientists at the

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Space Systems Laboratory developed the three SPHERES satellites and they have been onboard the ISS since 2006 to provide DARPA, NASA, and other researchers with a system that could help those agencies test technologies for use in formation flight and autonomous docking, rendezvous and reconfiguration algorithms, MIT stated. 

NASA also is getting into the spirit saying it will send its newest humanoid robot known as Robonaut2 - or R2 -- capable of using the same tools as humans letting them work closely with people into space onboard the space shuttle's final mission. 

NASA and General Motors built the 300lb R2 as a faster, more dexterous and more technologically advanced robot than past humanoid bots. R2 can use its hands to do work beyond the scope of prior humanoid machines and can easily work safely alongside people, a necessity both on Earth and in space, NASA stated. It is also stronger: able to lift, not just hold, a 20-pound weight (about four times heavier than what other dexterous robots can handle) both near and away from its body, NASA stated. 

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8   

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